Knot Norm’s in Norwalk is hard to find, easy to love
I have traveled all over America. Actually, make that the world. Plunk me down in the Canary islands or Gnaw Bone, Ind., and my inner GPS takes over. I am rarely lost. However, Norwalk, Conn., is the exception to the rule. I am always driving in circles of confusion. When I look for East Avenue, I wind up on West Avenue, and when I head for Washington Street, I land on Connecticut Avenue. But no amount of confusion equaled my attempts to find Knot Norm’s. It took me three separate trips. I used my real GPS and still could not find it. The fourth time was the charm.
I am glad I persevered because it was worth it. Knot Norm’s is a casual eatery that serves stellar seafood and damn fine beef brisket. If you have eaten at its sister restaurant, The Whelk (expensive and easy to find), you will know the level of the food served at Knot Norm’s. The menu is not as extensive, and you don’t have the tony Westport vibe, but it is worth a trip (in my case four trips) to eat here.
Knot Norm’s is on the corner of a cute residential neighborhood in East Norwalk. It is directly across from the iconic ice cream stand Mr. Frosty’s. Norm’s is an inviting space, big windows, painted nautical shades of blue, with simple tables for dining.
Although not long, the menu is beautifully curated. The portions are average in size, which is a good thing because you will not feel silly ordering more then one item. I did, actually. I ordered five entrees, which took up my whole table, but nobody laughed or pointed at me. My favorite was the Fried Copps Island oysters served on a buttered bun. Each the size of a thimble, the oysters could not have been any fresher. One bite and that strange heady oyster meat and juice oozes out and combines nicely with tartar sauce, snips of dill weed, diced tomatoes and gem lettuce. The oysters were fried in a cornmeal batter that sat lightly around each bivalve. I tried the version of the Copps Island Oysters that are served roasted instead of fried. They have a smattering of Panko crumbs, a splash of lemon juice and some minced shallots. I liked the fried version better, but I love fried food; you could fry a shoe and I would find it delicious.
To counterbalance the umami stocked oysters, I tried the slow-cooked brisket. This too is served on a roll. It is laced with a Korean barbecue sauce, pickled red onions and pickled cucumbers. This Asian twist reoccurs on Knot Norm’s menu. The fried chicken has pickled cucumbers, pickled daikon radish and togarashi aioli. The shaved steak sandwich is topped with pickled jalapeños and shishito peppers.
Asian-inspired foods are all the rage. Personally, I like a good bahn mi as much as anyone, but prefer foods that are inherently American, like oysters, barbecued brisket, fried chicken and shaved steak, to keep their homeland roots. The servers at Knot Norm’s are extremely accommodating, and I am sure that if you declined the pickled things, there would be no problem.
10 First St., East Norwalk
With this in mind I was crazy for the hot lobster roll and the Little Neck clams. The hot lobster roll is pricey, but beware of any too cheap lobster you find on a menu. It is fake lobster, and while some people like it, I do not. Mock, fake or faux foods are at the bottom of my list.
What I love about Norm’s lobster roll and the Little Necks is they are both served on a classic split-top toasted hot dog bun. The lobster roll is poached in “lobster butter,” which sounds like a way to turn up the briny volume. It is topped with micro-celery and lemon juice. I like a classic New England-style lobster roll, which means fresh-picked lobster, melted butter and a bun, and that is all. I have friends who prefer the other style of New England lobster roll — a cold lobster salad with mayo, celery and also on a bun. Knot Norm’s straddles both ways of doing it. The concept of micro-celery is lost on me. If I had my way, I would simply have macro lobster with macro drawn butter. If I wanted celery I would get nice old-fashioned planks of it. If I was to bring my vegetarian friends here, I would suggest they order the wonderful beet and apple salad. The greens are a mix of Napa cabbage and little gem lettuce, sprinkled with pepitas and a lovely white balsamic vinegar.
If you can find Knot Norm’s, it is worth the trip. It is near the Maritime Aquarium. In nice weather you can sit outside and after your meal run across the street and pig out at Mr. Frosty’s, where nothing is micro.
Jane Stern, a Ridgefield resident, coauthored the popular “Roadfood” guidebook series with Michael Stern. Join her each week as she travels Fairfield County finding a great meal in unexpected places for $20 or less.